Students Broaden Horizons through International Programs

Sydney Peet

Posted by: Elizabeth Richardson on July 1, 2021, No Comments

Travel is one of the best ways to expand our perspectives, meet new people, and learn about different cultures. East Stroudsburg University students broaden their horizons through international programs and the university welcomes students to campus who bring their own unique cultures from countries around the globe.

ESU’s Office of International Programs is an on-campus resource whose two-fold mission is to help ESU students fulfill their ambitions to study or work abroad, and help international students attending ESU adjust to their new surroundings. Interim director Steven Ives works with international students to navigate the visa application process, assists ESU students going abroad with scholarship applications and other travel logistics, and a host of other functions. Students can go abroad with a faculty-led program (typically visiting another country over spring break for 9-10 days, or over summer break for 2-3 weeks), or solo for an entire semester. “In 2020, prior to COVID, we had 18 faculty-led study abroad programs scheduled,” Ives says. Those programs were all canceled—Ives is optimistic they will return in spring or summer 2022.

Despite COVID-related travel restrictions and cancellations, ESU students continue to find opportunities to go abroad. The university is a member of the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), a consortium of over 200 higher education institutions in 60 countries. “It’s a reciprocal program,” Ives explains, meaning for every student ESU sends abroad, the program sends the same number of exchange students to ESU. Rising senior Sydney Peet returned from living in Brazil with her boyfriend’s family for six months and is excited to study abroad in Malaga, Spain, this fall as part of ISEP. Peet, of Pottstown, Pa., is a recipient of the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, an award for students of limited financial means to study abroad. She is an applied mathematics and Spanish double major and decided to study in Spain. “I decided to go to a Spanish-speaking country—I’ve been studying the language since high school,” she explains. “I was pretty torn between which country to choose—Spain, or either Argentina or Chile in South America. I’d been in Brazil in Latin America, so I thought I’d switch directions and try Europe. Since Spain is the only Spanish-speaking country in Europe, that made the decision much easier.”

According to the Gilman scholarship’s website, interested students must complete an application, submit two essays (Statement of Purpose and Community Impact), school transcripts, letters of recommendation, and proof of financial need (such as completing the FAFSA). The award is typically given to students who have not been abroad, show financial need, and will be studying a critical language. Peet received a $4,000 award (it is capped at $5,000) and is excited to move forward with her planning. She has been monitoring the U.S. Department of State’s website closely for any travel restriction updates. (Peet received special permission from ESU’s president and provost to go abroad in the fall rather than waiting for spring 2022). Students who wish to go abroad must have a certain language proficiency to be approved – for instance, Peet explained she needs a B1 level of proficiency to go to Spain, as her classes are all in Spanish.

Nick Kaelin is an international student who was recruited to play soccer at ESU. Now a rising senior majoring in business management with a concentration in finance, Kaelin is applying the skills and knowledge he’s learned in the classroom to his internship. He returned to his hometown of Lucerne, Switzerland, at the end of the spring 2021 semester (due to COVID travel restrictions, he had to remain on campus at ESU and take his classes virtually). His internship is in the operations and finance department of Water for Water (WfW), an organization working in Zambia, Mozambique, and Switzerland “for the sustainable and fair use of water as a resource,” according to their website. WfW works with over 500 companies throughout Switzerland on the promotion of tap water through initiatives like a water bottle exchange. In Zambia and Mozambique, they have a presence in structurally disadvantaged areas to ensure safe access to drinking water. He has been working out of the office in Switzerland and handles various tasks: “I do accounting, I’m in contact with customers, I try to help them with their problems. This is the first time I’m really working in the field that I actually studied for. I’m really trying to apply all the skills I’ve learned in the classroom. I took a lot of classes in international financial management—since my organization is international, I’ve learned a lot there. I’ve learned a lot about currency, and I have to deal with that a lot because I do a lot of accounting with different currency,” he explains. Kaelin adds coming to the U.S. was a new cultural experience for him. “I’d never been to the U.S. before, so everything was new. I loved the culture. I loved being part of the soccer team—it helped me find friends faster. For international students not on a team, join a club or do something to get to know others.” He points out a few differences: “The working style is a bit different in the U.S., so that was something I had to get used to. My first thought of going to the U.S. was playing soccer—only in the U.S. are there sports and school. I was able to work on my bachelor’s degree and still play soccer.”

Both Peet and Kaelin strongly urge others to go abroad, whether as part of a faculty-led program or solo. “Everyone can benefit from going to other countries,” Peet says. “It’s a good thing for literally everyone to expand their scope of the world. Trying to understand cultural differences can be challenging to do, but it’s easier to do when you immerse yourself in a different culture. You also gain a lot from getting out of your comfort zone and learning new things.”